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Side effects of surgery

  • Effects on your sex life: If you have a vaginal reconstruction, you may still be able to have intercourse, but it may not be possible to have an orgasm through penile penetration of the vagina. However, as surgery to the vagina does not affect the clitoris, it is still possible to have an orgasm through oral sex and masturbation.
  • Pain during intercourse: Sometimes the scar tissue from the surgery may cause pain during intercourse. If this occurs, using a lubricant and trying different positions can help. If vaginal dryness is an ongoing problem, water-based and non-perfumed lubricants are best. Using a vaginal moisturiser several times a week will also help to keep tissue more flexible. Using a dilator may also be beneficial (see ‘Side effects of radiotherapy’, above).
  • Not able to become pregnant: If you have a hysterectomy, you will no longer be able to become pregnant. If fertility is an important issue for you, talk to your doctor before your surgery to discuss any options available to you.
  • Pain: After surgery, you will have some pain or discomfort. It is best to let your doctor or nurse know when you are feeling uncomfortable – don’t wait until the pain becomes severe. You will be administered pain relief medication through an intravenous drip. You may be able to use a patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) system, which allows you to choose when you receive a dose of medication. Some people receive an epidural to relieve pain. An epidural is a form of regional anaesthesia involving injection of drugs into the spine.
  • Adhesions: Adhesions, or internal scar tissue that glues together tissues in the body, may form. Sometimes this can be painful. Adhesions to the bowel or bladder may need to be treated with further surgery.
  • Lymph fluid build-up: If you have had your lymph glands removed (lymphadenectomy), parts of your body may swell because your lymphatic system is not working properly. This is called lymphoedema. Lymphoedema symptoms may not appear for over two years after surgery. Swelling in your limbs may be reduced with gentle massage toward your heart, special compression garments and gentle exercise.
  • Bladder and bowel problems: If you’ve had a radical hysterectomy you may have difficulty emptying your bladder for a few weeks. You may also have constipation. While these problems will go away with time, your doctor or nurse can help you deal with them.
  • Menopause: If you had both ovaries removed and were not menopausal before the surgery, the removal of your ovaries will cause menopause. Hot flushes and other symptoms of menopause caused by surgery may be more severe than those caused by natural menopause. Some drugs have been shown to help with these symptoms, and they may be more effective if started before surgery.